The Hare Krishna Record Album
Mukunda: In 1969 you produced a single called "The Hare Krishna Mantra," which eventually became a hit in many countries. That tune later became a cut on the Radha-Krishna Temple album, which you also produced on the Apple label and was distributed in America by Capitol Records. A lot of people in the recording business were surprised by this, your producing songs for and singing with the Hare Krishnas. Why did you do it?
George: Well, it's just all a part of service, isn't it? Spiritual service, in order to try to spread the mantra all over the world. Also, to try and give the devotees a wider base and a bigger foothold in England and everywhere else.
Mukunda: How did the success of this record of Hare Krishna devotees chanting compare with some of the rock musicians you were producing at the time like Jackie Lomax, Splinter, and Billy Preston?
George: It was a different thing. Nothing to do with that really. There was much more reason to do it. There was less commercial potential in it, but it was much more satisfying to do, knowing the possibilities that it was going to create, the connotations it would have just by doing a three-and-a-half-minute mantra. That was more fun really than trying to make a pop hit record. It was the feeling of trying to utilize your skills or job to make it into some spiritual service to Krishna.
Mukunda: What effect do you think that tune, "The Hare Krishna Mantra," having reached millions and millions of people, has had on the cosmic consciousness of the world?
George: I'd like to think it had some effect. After all, the sound is God.
Mukunda: When Apple, the recording company, called a press conference to promote the record, the media seemed to be shocked to hear you speak about the soul and God being so important.
George: I felt it was important to try and be precise, to tell them and let them know. You know, to come out of the closet and really tell them. Because once you realize something, then you can't pretend you don't know it any more.
I figured this is the space age, with airplanes and everything. If everyone can go around the world on their holidays, there's no reason why a mantra can't go a few miles as well. So the idea was to try to spiritually infiltrate society, so to speak. After I got Apple Records committed to you and the record released, and after our big promotion, we saw it was going to become a hit. And one of the greatest things, one of the greatest thrills of my life, actually, was seeing you all on BBC's Top of the Pops. I couldn't believe it. It's pretty hard to get on that program, because they only put you on if you come into the Top 20. It was just like a breath of fresh air. My strategy was to keep it to a three-and-a-half-minute version of the mantra so they'd play it on the radio, and it worked. I did the harmonium and guitar track for that record at Abbey Road studios before one of the Beatles' sessions and then overdubbed a bass part. I remember Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, arrived at the studio and enjoyed the mantra.
Mukunda: Paul's quite favorable now, you know.
George: That's good. It still sounds like quite a good recording, even after all these years. It was the greatest fun of all, really, to see Krishna on Top of the Pops.
Mukunda: Shortly after its release, John Lennon told me that they played it at the intermission right before Bob Dylan did the Isle of Wight concert with Jimi Hendrix, the Moody Blues, and Joe Cocker in the summer of '69.
George: They played it while they were getting the stage set up for Bob. It was great. Besides, it was a catchy tune, and the people didn't have to know what it meant in order to enjoy it. I felt very good when I first heard it was doing well.
Mukunda: How did you feel about the record technically, the voices?
George: Yamuna, the lead singer, has a naturally good voice. I liked the way she sang with conviction, and she sang like she'd been singing it a lot before. It didn't sound like the first tune she'd ever sung.
You know, I used to sing the mantra long before I met any of the devotees or long before I met Prabhupada, because I had his first record then for at least two years. When you're open to something it's like being a beacon, and you attract it. From the first time I heard the chanting, it was like a door opened somewhere in my subconscious, maybe from some previous life.
Mukunda: In the Iyrics to that song "Awaiting on You All," from the All Things Must Pass album, you come right out front and tell people that they can be free from living in the material world by chanting the names of God. What made you do it? What kind of feedback did you get?
George: At that time, nobody was committed to that type of music in the pop world. There was, I felt, a real need for that, so rather than sitting and waiting for somebody else, I decided to do it myself. A lot of times we think, "Well, I agree with you, but I'm not going to actually stand up and be counted. Too risky." Everybody is always trying to keep themselves covered, stay commercial, so I thought, just do it. Nobody else is, and I'm sick of all these young people just boogeying around, wasting their lives, you know. Also, I felt that there were a lot of people out there who would be reached. I still get letters from people saying, "I have been in the Krishna temple for three years, and I would have never known about Krishna unless you recorded the All Things Must Pass album." So I know, by the Lord's grace, I am a small part in the cosmic play.
Mukunda: What about the other Beatles? What did they think about your taking up Krishna consciousness? What was their reaction? You'd all been to India by then and were pretty much searching for something spiritual. Syamasundara said that once, when he ate lunch with you and the other Beatles, they were all quite respectful.
George: Oh, yeah, well, if the Fab Four didn't get it, that is, if they couldn't deal with shaven-headed Hare Krishnas, then there would have been no hope! [Laughter.] And the devotees just came to be associated with me, so people stopped thinking, "Hey, what's this?" you know, if somebody in orange, with a shaved head, would appear. They'd say, "Oh, yeah, they're with George."
Mukunda: From the very start, you always felt comfortable around the devotees?
George: The first time I met Syamasundara, I liked him. He was my pal. I'd read about Prabhupada coming from India to Boston on the back of his record, and I knew that Syamasundara and all of you were in my age group, and that the only difference, really, was that you'd already joined and I hadn't. I was in a rock band, but I didn't have any fear, because I had seen dhotis, your robes, and the saffron color and shaved heads in India. Krishna consciousness was especially good for me because I didn't get the feeling that I'd have to shave my head, move into a temple, and do it full time. So it was a spiritual thing that just fit in with my life-style. I could still be a musician, but I just changed my consciousness, that's all.
Mukunda: You know, the Tudor mansion and estate that you gave us outside London has become one of our largest international centers. How do you feel about the Bhaktivedanta Manor's success in spreading Krishna consciousness?
George: Oh, it's great. And it also relates to making the Hare Krishna record or whatever my involvements were. Actually, it gives me pleasure, the idea that I was fortunate enough to be able to help at that time. All those songs with spiritual themes were like little plugs-"My Sweet Lord" and the others. And now I know that people are much more respectful and accepting when it comes to seeing the devotees in the streets and all that. It's no longer like something that's coming from left field.
And I've given a lot of Prabhupada's books to many people, and whether I ever hear from them again or not, it's good to know that they've gotten them, and if they read them, their lives may be changed.
Mukunda: When you come across people who are spiritually inclined but don't have much knowledge, what kind of advice do you give them?
George: I try to tell them my little bit, what my experience is, and give them a choice of things to read and a choice of places to go-like you know, "Go to the temple, try chanting."
Mukunda: In the "Ballad of John and Yoko," John and Yoko rapped the media for the way it can foster a false image of you and perpetuate it. It's taken a lot of time and effort to get them to understand that we are a genuine religion, with scriptures that predate the New Testament by three thousand years. Gradually, though, more people, scholars, philosophers, and theologians, have come around, and today they have a great deal of respect for the ancient Vaisnava tradition, where the modern-day Krishna consciousness movement has its roots
George: The media is to blame for everything, for all the misconceptions about the movement, but in a sense it didn't really matter if they said something good or bad, because Krishna consciousness always seemed to transcend that barrier anyway The fact that the media was letting people know about Krishna was good in itself.
Mukunda: Srila Prabhupada always trained us to stick to our principles. He said that the worst thing we could ever do would be to make some sort of compromise or to dilute the philosophy for the sake of cheap popularity. Although many swamis and yogis had come from India to the West, Prabhupada was the only one with the purity and devotion to establish India's ancient Krishna conscious philosophy around the world on its own terms-not watered down, but as it is.
George: That's right. He was a perfect example of what he preached.
Mukunda: How did you feel about financing the first printing of the Krishna book and writing the introduction?
George: I just felt like it was part of my job, you know. Wherever I go in the world, when I see devotees, I always say "Hare Krishna!" to them, and they're always pleased to see me. It's a nice relationship. Whether they really know me personally or not, they feel they know me. And they do, really.
Mukunda: When you did the Material World album, you used a photo insert taken from the cover of Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita showing Krishna and His friend and disciple, Arjuna. Why?
George: Oh, yeah. It said on the album, "From the cover of Bhagavad-gita As It Is by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami." It was a promo for you, of course. I wanted to give them all a chance to see Krishna, to know about Him. I mean that's the whole idea, isn't it?